A 71-year-old Australian man named Mike Hastings died last week in a small town in New South Wales. At various points in his life he’d been a forklift driver, a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman and an agronomist.
He could also have been the rightful heir to England’s throne.
That assertion may sound like an alternate history plotline straight out of Doctor Who, but it’s backed up by historians and genealogical research.
In order to understand it all, you’ve got to go back to the time of King Edward IV, who ruled England during the contentious period of the Wars of the Roses. Many historians now believe that Edward was illegitimate, and if that’s true, then, according to the strict rules of succession, he should never have been king. That one mistake in the mid-15th century would also mean that every single monarch who came after Edward – up to the present day Queen Elizabeth II – was following an incorrect bloodline to the throne. In other words, none of them should have ever been kings or queens.
So how does Mike Hastings, or, should we say, Michael I, fit into all this?
If Edward IV was illegitimate, then the crown should have gone to his younger brother George, the Duke of Clarence, who was a direct ancestor of modern-day Mike Hastings. This tangled family history was uncovered during the research for a fascinating documentary, Britain’s Real Monarch, which aired on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2004. The documentary, presented by actor Tony Robinson, traced the crown’s alternate lineage – the path it would have followed if, instead of going to Edward, it had gone to his brother George and then followed the strict rules of succession.
In the revised genealogy, instead of Tudors, Stuarts and Windsors, there are an awful lot of Hastings, who were of the Plantagenet line – a fact that was not lost on kings and queens after Edward for the next century or so, who, the documentary argues, took sometimes brutal precautions against the family to prevent it from asserting its birthright. Members of the Plantagenets continued to play significant roles in other eras of English history and, at times, as the documentary also points out, intersected in remarkable ways with the official royal family.
Mike Hastings himself was the 14th Earl of Loudon. He knew of his aristocratic background his entire life – wearing it lightly on his sleeve – but did not know of his claim to Britain’s throne until Robinson and his film crew showed up at his door in the small outback town of Jerilderie in 2004.
Learning that he could be considered the real King of England was, Hastings told Robinson, a “bit of a shock” especially since he believed that Australia should be a republic – and had voted against the monarchy in the nation’s referendum in 1999.
“I’m not a mad monarchist,” he said.
He said that the documentary convinced him that he had a legitimate claim to the throne.
“The more I watch the documentary,” he said, “the more I’m convinced that they’re right and I probably should be the King of England.”
But he said he never thought of trying to claim his birthright: “I’ve no intention of chasing over there and laying claim to palaces and crown jewels,” he said.
He joked, however, that there might be some money in it for him.
“I reckon I might send Lizzie [Queen Elizabeth II] a bill for back rent. The old girl’s family have been living in my bloody castle for the last 500 years,” he said, according to AFP.
Hastings said he liked being just a regular bloke.
“It is bad enough being a Pom over here,” he said, using a shortening of the Australian slang term for Brit, “let alone being a bloody titled one.”
And by all accounts, including his own, he was happier being just plain Mike rather than His Majesty.
He told journalists that he thought being a royal “would be a terrible way to live … They can’t even pick their noses without someone writing about them.”
“I’m quite happy in Jerilderie,” he said, according to the Telegraph. “There’s no pressure, everybody knows everybody and the people are friendly.”
And it doesn’t seem as though his eldest child is looking to become King Simon I, either.